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University of Southern Denmark and Vifo will examine the importance of Danish associational life in large-scale research project

Over the next three years, the Centre for Research in Sports, Health, and Civil Society (CISC) at the University of Southern Denmark and the Danish Institute for Non-Formal Education (Vifo) will investigate the significance and impact of associations on democracy, the welfare state, and the quality of life of the Danish people

At the request of the then government, the Danish people decided in 2016 that Danish association and volunteering are among the 10 values that should be included in the so-called "Denmark Canon" of Danish values.

Despite the importance of associations for Danes, there is actually very little knowledge about what associations truly mean for democracy, the welfare state, and the quality of life in Denmark today. A new research project aims to change that.

With a grant of just over 5 million DKK from the TrygFonden foundation, researchers from CISC and Vifo will examine the development, significance, and societal role of Danish associational life over three years from 2024 to 2026.

A reality check on Danish association life

Senior analyst Malene Thøgersen from Vifo explains that there is a strong belief in Denmark that associations play an important role for democracy and the quality of life, well-being, and learning of individual citizens. In recent years, associations and their members and volunteers have also been met with expectations that they can help address various types of welfare challenges.

"Despite the high level of confidence in Danish associations, we lack fundamental knowledge about associations in several areas. The need for knowledge is even greater as there are also many beliefs about changes happening in Danish associational life, such as changes in member engagement, the use of paid staff, and relations with the public sector," says Malene Thøgersen.

"But in reality, we don't know the extent to which these changes have occurred and what they actually mean for these associations."

Focus on development, democracy, and quality of life

The research project begins in January 2024 and will cover various aspects of Danish associational life. The project will describe the development of associations from 2004 to the present, including the amount of voluntary and paid work and the interest and capacity of associations to address societal issues. Researchers will also examine democracy within the associations and the participation of members. Finally, the project will explore what it means for individuals to participate in association activities.

"Based on the results, we will be able to say something about how Danish associational life has evolved over time including an assessment of whether some of the changes pointed out in individual studies can be confirmed. Based on this, the ambition is to provide recommendations on how associational life can be strengthened in the future," explains Evald Bundgaard Iversen, the center director for CISC.

How the project will be carried out

The project will use a number of different methods.

It will begin by mapping all types of associations located in Funen, Langeland, Ærø, and the other islands around Funen. Questionnaires will be sent to the associations with questions about their values, organisation, the extent of voluntary and paid work, and their collaboration with the municipality.

Funen has been selected for the study because similar surveys were conducted there in 2004 and 2010, allowing for an assessment of how Danish association life has evolved over time.

Later, the project will involve:

- A survey of members in up to 100 selected associations, who will answer questions about their involvement in the association, their participation in association democracy, and what it means for their quality of life to be a member of the association.

- Case studies in five associations, focusing on how members are active in the association.

- A representative survey of 10,000 adults, who will be asked about their participation in Danish associations and what it means for their engagement in democracy in general and their quality of life.

Photo: Thomas Søndergaard


Malene Thøgersen
Senior analyst, Ph.D.
The Danish Institute for Non-Formal Education (Vifo)
T: +45 61 79 64 63

Evald Bundgaard Iversen
Lecturer and center director
Center for Research in Sports, Health, and Civil Society (CISC)
Department of Sports and Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark
T: +45 61 66 48 66


The Danish Institute for Non-Formal Education (Vifo) collects, analyses and shares knowledge in the area of non-formal education and democratic voluntary activity. Vifo is a part of the Danish Institute for Sports Studies which is a self-governing institution working to establish a general overview of and insight into the field of sports through data gathering, analyses, and research.

The Center for Research in Sports, Health, and Civil Society (CISC) is a research center under SDU's Department of Sports and Biomechanics. CISC engages in social scientific research on movements and the social and societal conditions related to them. CISC conducts research projects and evaluations for municipalities, public institutions, and organisations.

Learn more about Vifo here:
Learn more about CISC here:

Editing was completed: 26.10.2023